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CLIM-ARCH-DATE scientific goals

clim arch 2k fig natcomms1901 f5

Changes in the marine radiocarbon reservoir correction (ΔR) for the North Icelandic Shelf during the past 1,350 years (orange dots). These are derived from a precisely dated chronology based on growth increments in mollusc shells, and are therefore reliable within the constraints of the radiocarbon determination. (For a full explanation of this chart, see Wanamaker et al. 2012, Nature Communications).

The popularity of so-called “environmental determinism” has waxed and waned in the history of cultural and archaeological studies, but is presently seen as experiencing a resurgence (Judkins et al. 2008). This has further fed into theories of “climate reductionism”, ideas about how environmental change may affect societal stability and patterns of migration in the future (Hulme, 2011). Simplistic expressions of determinism and reductionism can flourish in a space where the degree, mode and timing of environmental influence on human societies are difficult to determine with precision; this difficulty can to a considerable extent be attributed to uncertainty surrounding the dating and sequencing of environmental and cultural change, as well as their geographical spread. Understanding past environmental-cultural influences and feedbacks in more detail will enable the pitfalls of some common deterministic and reductionist ideas about past and future human responses to climate change to be examined more critically.  

It is now possible to approach these questions systematically using new paleoclimate archives and new analytical techniques. Using radiocarbon dates of precisely-dated specimens from multi-centennial shell-based chronologies, it is possible to determine changes in the regional marine radiocarbon reservoir correction through time and space (Wanamaker et al. 2012; see accompanying Figure). Also, data from shell chronologies can be aligned with data from tree-ring chronologies and documentary records to allow the lead-lag relationships between the marine and terrestrial realms to be determined at very high resolution (Reynolds et al. 2017). In another recent example, the combination of tree-ring, radiocarbon, tephra and documentary dating evidence was used to improve Greenland ice-core chronologies of the history of explosive volcanism over the past 2500 years (Sigl et al. 2015).

In CLIM-ARCH-DATE, we will build a team with strong experience in paleoenvironmental and archaeological dating techniques (including particular complexities associated with marine sites) to determine and develop the most effective ways of integrating all the relevant techniques. This involves the alignment of high resolution time series from different realms (tree rings, bivalves, corals, coralline algae, lake sediments, peat bogs and ice cores) together with documentary records, archaeological evidence and the latest understanding of the timing of volcanic eruptions and their effects.

The team includes experts in archaeology, use of documentary archives, links between culture and environment, as well as leading researchers in a range of natural climate archives.

Experts on specific societal transitions will be added as suitable events of interest are identified.

We feel that the transdisciplinary nature of this project will feed into the current priorities of funding agencies and that the incorporation of the human dimension will enhance the appeal of paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental science, which can sometimes have difficulty showing its direct relevance to present-day societal priorities.